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20th February, 2005  Volume 11, Issue 32

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Review

"Baby 81 was our neighbour." 

By Ranee Mohamed In Thirukkovil, Kalmunai 

There were debris and devastation as far as the eye could see, only the sea was calm, blue and beautiful. The land was...... 

More......


Review more articles

> The refugee camp generation

> No woolly thinking in bone repair

> Meeting the scientology volunteers...

> Strange guests!

> Our children are our future

> Cricket and cricket talk... (Balder dash)

> A closer look at Sri Lanka's craft heritage

> Zahrah: Talking her way to success


"Baby 81 was our neighbour." 

"Why did this happen to us?"                                                          Living in great expectations....

By Ranee Mohamed In Thirukkovil, Kalmunai 

There were debris and devastation as far as the eye could see, only the sea was calm, blue and beautiful. The land was a sight.

And among this sea of devastation on earth were a few people who sat and waited. They were the neighbours of Baby 81 who was reunited with his parents last Wednesday. "He was a joyous baby and so were our babies," cried the woman who sat staring at a huge television set without its glass and insides.

In this scorching sun, these were the only people who waited. It was not the surroundings that kept them glued to this hard, broken ground this way: it was the love that they had for the ones they lost, and the memories of their happy family lives.

"Baby is alive!"

"We were so close to Baby 81, I have carried him in my arms and I am so glad that he is well. It is hard to imagine though that this little baby could have survived all this," said Parasaraman. "You will not believe the way the tsunami came our way," went on Parasaraman. "I heard this gushing sound and when I looked up, I saw the sea rising higher than the lamp post. Baby 81 was exceptionally lucky to have survived all this," he said.

"Maybe my daughter is somewhere too," said Sinnathamby Maramma, her red rimmed eyes filling with tears. Her eyes began to scan the miles and miles of devastation as if expecting her loved ones to emerge from under. "I lost my daughters and my three grandchildren," said this woman clad in blue, her clothes blending beautifully with the sea far beyond and her tears and anguish too had a strange similarity with the sea.

Velaithan Parasaraman was wearing a white sarong. He was holding his bare chest with his right hand. His face spoke of the anguish of his heart. "Ever since the day I lost my wife and mother, I have been living here amidst all this concrete," said Parasaraman, picking up the pieces of broken stone that was once his house and kissing them. "Why did this happen to us?" he asked wailing. "I know that they will come back, they were taken by the sea, but I keep expecting them to walk out of the waves someday," he said.

Rasayagam Vartharajah too was waiting for his mother and children to come back. "We do not get any food, no aid has come our way. I am hungry and I am alone," he said crying uncontrollably.

Time is a healer, they say, but these people, in tears are still waiting. These are the people who have lost their families but in their misery, they have united to become a family that lives amidst the devastation. In a makeshift tent that they have put up, using gunny bags, they shielded their worn out bodies from the burning sun that the sea facing threw at them with a generous stroke.

A family almost complete

Inside this tent was chaos, the television set stood in the pathway. A female dog that fled the tsunami had come back home to litter. And in this tent were four little puppies, nibbling at the debris and wagging their tails, calling the human beings around to play. But nobody was in the mood to play. The puppies seemed perplexed. 'Strange world, we have come into,' they probably wonder.

Now the family seemed to be almost complete, with a dog and all - but what about the children?

In this huge devastated area called Constable Lane, nature seemed to have been a law unto itself. And this is where Baby 81 lived - with hundreds of other families. "There were over 200 bodies from our neighbourhood and they say that our loved ones were among them," cried the woman, the sorrow of a mother and grandmother almost killing her.

In these regions of Kalumunai, Thirukkovil and Pottuvil, the devastation seemed at its worst. Human suffering was at its peak. There was sadness everywhere. Women with children lay on the road outside divisional secretariats, their eyes glinting in the unmerciful sun.

There was no food or drink in sight and in the refugee camp that lined the road, little children were crying, the older ones were running holding their trousers to their hips with their left hands. The camps, hidden away in these lesser-visited areas were enclosures of exceptionally painful human suffering, for it was animal life for human beings amidst the jungles of Akkaraipattu and its vicinity.

The tents in Kalmunai seemed closed without human habitation and the sun beat down on them. It was hard to imagine how little children could live inside these tents, with the sun beating down so hard on them.

In Pinayagapuram, women stood carrying their children on their hips while the men were trying hard to put up a temporary shelter.

Harsh realities

In areas closer to the sea, women in desperation had put their little ones to sleep in the sea sand - there was sand in their eyes and in their mouths too. All this makes one wonder where on earth to have all the aid gone. Wherever it went to, it has not percolated to these areas where human beings were silently crying from their hearts for help.

On the main streets of Pottuvil and Thirukkovil, even the animals seemed to feel the heat and the suffering. Scores of buffaloes buried themselves in the scant muddy waters, which the people seemed to treasure. It was hard not to compare all this suffering of the tsunami affected to the flourish of Colombo.

As the road snaked its way through the devastation, it seemed like there was a road in the middle of the beach, there were clumps of sea sand and sea garbage everywhere and these concrete pieces now being moved away by huge machinery were once homes of people.

In the areas of Addalachenai, Thampadi, Kanchanakuda, Palmunai, Pottuvil and their environs the tsunami's wrath seemed worst. If there was one thing more painful than the other, it was the misery of the children and the helplessness of their parents in having to watch their offspring suffer.

Modest statistics reveal that there are over 702 orphans from the north and east alone.

SOS not contacted

Meanwhile National Director, SOS Children's Village, Cedric de Silva when contacted about helping out the children in these camps said that he is at a loss to understand why the SOS Village has not been contacted by the authorities.

"We are able to give homes - that means a family unit with mother, brothers, sisters etc. immediately. But we have had no response from the authorities," he said. De Silva went on to say that he as the national director, SOS Children's Village notes with concern the abject conditions and sufferings of children in camps, especially in the north and eastern regions of the country.


The refugee camp generation

By Shezna Shums

Sri Lanka is a country that is facing back to back tragedies. Just when the country's war that lasted for 20 years was on hold and the affected war refugees could think of going back to their homeland and restarting their lives after years at welfare centers, the country was hit hard again by the tsunami that affected more than 248,266 and displaced more than 117,302 families.

Now the country not only has to deal with the problem of war refugees who have been languishing in welfare centres for years, but is faced with the additional task of dealing with the tsunami refugees as well.

Statistics from the Rehabilitation Ministry Statistical Unit and the UNHCR indicate that in 2004 there were 91,427 families and a total of 352,582 persons internally displaced by the war.

Those who have returned to their homeland stand at 378,818 while the number of persons who have returned to their homeland from India is 15,073.

Severely affected

Some of the districts that have been affected by the war and have also seen internally displaced persons are

Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Jaffna, Killinochchi, Batti- caloa, Trincomalee, Ampara, Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

The districts that have the most number of internally displaced persons are; Vavuniya with 10,043 families and 38,950 persons, Mullaitivu with 14,955 families and 58,519 persons, Jaffna with 18,266 families and 63,801 persons and Puttalam with 66,184 families and 11,880 persons displaced.

No homes built

It should also be noted that with a war that lasted for more than 20 years, many refugees have been housed in temporary shelters for a minimum of 10 years while some of them have gone back to their own lands or districts, but hardly seeing any homes being built for them by the government. However, the government provides these people with food rations and an allowance. But what is significant is the fact that even after such a long time, homes have not been built for some of these people, and they remain in welfare centres even after the ceasefire was signed between the government and the LTTE three years ago.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Vavuniya District Secretary, T. Thuraisamy said that the main problem faced by the 2037 internally displaced families is finding land for them.

"Most of these people want land near the towns and the government does not have such land for them. So we are inquiring about private lands as well," said Thuraisamy.

Further he said that the farmers in the area are complaining of a lack of labourers and even the displaced persons do not do farming.

"About 200 families have been in temporary shelters for at least 10 years, while there are 797 others who have been in temporary shelters for about four or five years," noted the Secretary.

Presently there are three welfare centres in this district and 148 members are working in order to provide the displaced with water, sanitation, electricity and food.

Awaiting help

Acting Divisional Secretary, Akkaraipattu Divisional Secretariat, M. A. Mohideen Gapichai also pointed out that some families affected by the war are in temporary shelters and are still waiting to be moved to permanent homes.

Meanwhile in Kalmunai, six schools are being used as temporary shelters for the displaced people and negotiations are underway with NGOs to make permanent homes for these people. Meanwhile Divisional Secretary, Kalmunai District, A. H. M. Ansar pointed out that in this district there are 1364 internally displaced families by the war.

The internally displaced persons, after suffering for 20 years because of war, should in fact have seen a lot of reconstruction and rehabilitation during the last few years of peace. Ironically, their rehabilitation is yet to happen with the tsunami refugees getting all the attention.


No woolly thinking in bone repair

Otago University researchers have turned New Zealand wool into a product they hope will revolutionise bone surgery and given disfigured patients new hope.

Working with biotechnology company Keratec, Sri Lankan Dr. George Dias and Dr. Phil Peplow have created a mouldable, bone like material based on keratin, a protein extracted from wool, which they say will help bones heal faster, cleaner and more naturally.

The material, which can be made as malleable as jelly or as hard as bone is strong enough to be used in structural repair, but will gradually absorb into the body as it encourages new bone to grow, Dr. Dias said in an interview recently.

Broken or damaged bones are currently repaired using the biochemical extract collagen, metal like stainless steel or titanium, or bone chips usually harvested from elsewhere on the patient's body.

Those techniques risked cross-contamination and infection, often needed follow up surgery, and even risked being rejected by the body altogether, Dr. Dias, a former maxillo-facial surgeon said.

"It was a question that just kept swimming in my mind - there had to be a better way and that was something I wanted to find out when I moved into academic work," said Dr. Dias who left surgery in Sri Lanka to lecture in Dunedin in 1994.

"I was just blown away with how, once I had an idea what I wanted to achieve, just how easy things progressed."

Inspired by human finger nails, which contain keratin, Dr. Dias teamed with Dr. Peplow, who has a chemistry background, to see whether keratin could be used in bone surgery.

Starting in 2000 their research led to tests which "showed us, almost straight away that this could be used, and that it was going to be as good as I'd hoped it would be," Dr. Dias said.

"There was nothing to refine in our initial tests: the body just treated it like it was a piece of detached bone, and simply continued with the normal repair process. After a while, there was no sign of the material, and the bone was forming in its place," he said.

Dr. Dias said the material, which was patented by 2002 and sold to Keratec last year was still being developed, but he expected it to eventually become "standard" at hospitals around the world.

The university owned the intellectual property from his research, but Dr. Dias hoped his discovery would give impetus to his many other projects.

"Oh, yes, I've got more ideas where that came from, and I am working now on some that I think will be very interesting in the future. You have not heard the last of me," he said.


Meeting the scientology volunteers...

Scientology volunteers applying 'Nerve Assist' to patients

By Easwaran Rutnam In Galle 

Walking along the streets of the Galle town that was devastated by the tsunami, I noticed some unusual activity at what looked like a makeshift medical campsite opposite the District Secretariat.

I have seen medical camps on the way side at most places devastated by the tsunami but somehow this campsite stood out.

Curiosity led my colleague and I to take a closer look, and when we entered the campsite we saw a group of foreign volunteers in yellow T-shirts apply a technique similar to massaging on the patients.

However, we were bemused when we noticed that the volunteers, who had the words 'Scientology Volunteers' printed on their T-shirts, gently stroke the body of the patients using only their index fingers.

Nerve Assist

What sort of massaging is this? We asked each other. The answer came from Franco Beschi of Italy who approached us with a smile and invited us to a demonstration.

"We are using a technique called 'Nerve Assist,' which is practiced in scientology to relieve body and muscular pain or straighten joints and the spine," Beschi explained.

Beschi, who was working with a team of 25 volunteers from several countries stressed that the technique is not a substitute for conventional medicine but rather one that helps reduce the recovery time.

Recovery

"The mind plays an important role in recovery. Recovery time largely depends on how soon the patient can stop focusing his attention on the pain," he said.

Beschi says in theory it is the nerve that holds the muscles tense causing pain and also impacts the spine.

Nerve Assist releases the tension in the nerves, which in turn impacts the brain and ultimately heals the pain experienced in the body.

The procedure of the method involves the patient lying face down on a bed while the volunteer gently strokes the 12 big nerves which branch out from the spine using the index fingers.

The process is later applied while the patient is lying face up. The volunteer later strokes the arms and legs and repeats the whole process till the patient feels relaxed and comfortable.

The scientology method was founded and developed by L. Ron Hubbard of the United States who came up with the idea after intense research while he served the US Navy during World War II.

Beschi says his team gains satisfaction when they see patients who walk in depressed with pain walk out smiling.

Meanwhile one of his patients from Galle who was all smiles told us that he had a severe back pain when he walked in, but feels relaxed and stress free after he went through the Nerve Assist process.


Strange guests!

"We cannot ignore them just because they are animals"

By Dhananjani Silva

Down the busy New Moors Street is a chocolate seller who eagerly awaits some special visitors. "Now it's 3.30 p.m. and this is the usual time they come. they definitely should come now..." we hear this seller muttering to himself.

Chocolates

Two chocolates are kept on a side table - perhaps this must be the only offering this poor seller has for his guests. "One for the mother and the other for the baby," he says.

But who are these much-awaited visitors, we begin to wonder.

Finally, they arrive but to our amazement, it is not customers who come to meet this vendor this time, but two goats instead.

"These two goats have been frequenting my chocolate outlet for nearly one year," says the owner of the outlet, Akbar. "They not only come to my shop, but go to almost all the other shops in this street. From here, they go strait to the adjoining shop to eat hoppers. They love to eat the pani appa they make," he said pointing his finger to a shop nearby. "Like that they go from one shop to another till they are satisfied to the fullest and return to the place where they are looked after. Although there are plenty of goats in that house only these two are coming like that Miss," says Akbar.

According to this seller, these goats are well trained that they do not mess-up what is there on the table. They also do not mind waiting until they are offered their much-yearned chocolates. But what do they do when they see a different face and not that of their buddy? Akbar answers; "No when I am not here they won't stop to eat chocolates. Then they would go to the next shop and eat hoppers on a day like that," says this kind seller.

Asked whether people harm these two goats that frequent their shops, this seller says that no body in this area is that cruel. "But they are sometimes reluctant to spare the food they have to sell," he said.

"One chocolate costs about Rs.10 and this means that for the two goats we have to spare 20 bucks a day. Then again we have nothing to do Miss, these poor animals do not know the value of money. Even if we don't give them the chocolates, just like small kids who get their things done, they try to come inside the shop and somehow make us give them the chocolates," he went on adding that it was the female goat who trained the kid to make this a daily habit.

Humanity

In this street there are plenty of vendors like Akbar who solely depend on their small business outlets to fill their empty tummies - yet they are willing to pay attention to these helpless animals - they have the heart to think that hunger is hunger for everybody, no matter if you are a human being or an animal. That is why they lend their ears to the innocent pleas of these dumb animals.


Our children are our future

Some children suffer from psychological problems due to parental negligence

By Risdra Mendis 

Our children are the future generation of our country - ironically, the importance of protecting and caring for our children has taken a back seat from recent times.

The rising cost of living and the heavy workload make parents neglect their children thereby creating a void in their lives. In fact it is due to the negligence and ignorance of parents that many children suffer from psychological problems. And, with the recent tsunami disaster a large number of children have become the victims of post traumatic conditions.

Working with children suffering from psychological problems is no easy task. But for Saumya Kodagoda, helping children overcome their stress and psychological problems has become a part of her life.

"Our children are the future generation of our country. If we were to ignore the common problems faced by these children what would be the outcome of the future of our country?" asked Kodagoda. 

According to Kodagoda, it has been reported that around one third of the population in tsunami refugee camps in Sri Lanka are children.

Post traumatic condition

"Many of them are known to suffer from post traumatic condition. At present many of our school children suffer from 31 abnormal psychological problems as revealed by my 43 years of individual research carried out," she said.

"No development work would be possible and peace in society would only be a dream if these psychological problems were not addressed soon. Children in tsunami camps have been provided with food, clothing, medicine and temporary shelter. However, at present an urgent programme of trauma counselling is what these children need," says Kodagoda.

Kodagoda has identified that education of emotions or promotion of wisdom, also referred to as character-building, is the best way of helping these children overcome their traumatic conditions.

"In order to help children suffering from post traumatic conditions, the first step is to promote spirituality, faith in religion, sacredness and the performance of religious rites and rituals which promote seela, morality and good character. The second step is to develop versatility in the dhamma and the required disciplines thereby developing wisdom," said Kodagoda.

A new indigenous methodology to alleviate mental suffering (counselling) and character-building (education) has now been developed by Kodagoda. The new methodology once evaluated was found to have positive effects. This programme can be applied not only in Sri Lanka but also in Third World countries.

Cultural Clinic

"Known as the Cultural Clinic, this new indigenous methodology includes the wisdom kit, a character development kit and a learning kit that includes the basic material required for the promotion of wisdom and character building in children and their families," said Kodagoda.

According to Kodagoda, the wisdom kit can also be used for children suffering from any other adverse conditions and is known to cater to short term and long term problems in children.

The first step in the new methodology of the Cultural Clinic is oral counselling. "Oral counselling is needed to remove mental problems, purify the mind and promote other virtues of character, which develop motivation through wisdom. Reading relevant material required for cognitive therapy has to be carefully selected to match the needs of each child," Kodagoda added.

However, after many years of research Kodagoda has proved to parents and teachers that qualities such as love, compassion, kindness and equanimity is what should be applied when counselling traumatic children.

"By applying my principles of research I have proved that a basic course in counselling would not equip a person to treat a post traumatic condition. All those who are involved in counselling ought to note these facts," Kodagoda said.

Kodagoda further said that reading on how others affected by similar situations have overcome their traumatic experiences can also help victims overcome their own traumatic situations.

Diaries

"Children once recovered from their traumatic condition are trained in maintaining diaries that would identify their strengths and talents to build up confidence. Gradually they could be directed to their schoolwork for which they would be motivated as they have by now developed the habit of reading for versatility," said Kodagoda.

According to Kodagoda, after the counsellors have left, these children will not be recollecting the disaster they went through as they would have by then cultivated the habit of active reading from the wisdom kit.

The Cultural Clinic programme is expected to help children who have sleepless nights and nightmares due to the after-effects of a disaster. "Such children can overcome this problem by continuing to read relevant books. A suitable parent or adult may be trained to operate this mechanism so that they could in turn use it on their children suffering from post traumatic depression," said Kodagoda.


Balder dash

Cricket and cricket talk... 

Why is it when men who play(ed) a sport get together, they remember every move? I am one of the few women who doesn't know the rules and the lingo that goes with all these games, and who plays what.

Once, I carried on a long conversation with this guy at a party thinking he was a player, only to find out he was the physiotherapist! I was told to use my common sense, as if cricketers were so old! I mean, he had the same blazer on and everything like the team. I was also interrogated about my conversation amidst hoots of derision.

Recently, I was thrust into this sporty circle, and every time I tried to change the conversation, whoosh! back it came to sports! To me, it sounded a lot like bragging. The conversation roughly ran like this; "Machang, then I bowled a left swing underarm to the right half slip, and it caught him on the thigh, the fielder was at silly mid-off, (where all idiots are sent?) etc."

 Nothing but Greek

It's all Greek to me! To me it sounds like they are talking about ladies underwear! Occasionally, I would throw in a  flippant remark, interrupting a group nearby...One of them kept exclaiming, "I always thought you liked cricket!" I could see him secretly feeling sorry for the Great Sportsman in our family, being saddled with someone so boring!

And I suppose this obsession with balls is because they are round and travel faster than straight edgy things. There is a lot of running around these balls, the faster the better! I suppose it's a good way to exercise and be in the pink of health. I once told my husband I didn't mind swimming, gymnastics and football. Ah, at last a ray of hope! "Why?" So I can admire their super physiques and muscular legs! His eyes flew wide with shock, then he snorted and laughed!

"I say, you are a hell of a one, men!!" he said. I really don't see the point of watching the same old boring thing over and over again. What a waste of time, when you could read a good book, listen to some music or have a good chat with your friend on the phone?Much more fun! Great sportsmen can't even last a whole hour of shopping, they get tired out, and thirsty, their feet ache and all sorts of things!

How about shopping?

Now shopping is a joyful exercise and an absolute necessity to mankind. Unfortunately there are no standing ovations and glory attached to this sport. I suppose it's slightly more expensive than the duller, popular ones. The only autograph you give is the one on your credit card slip, and I am sure you would rather someone else signs that!

Once, I actually sat through a cricket match at this day/night thingy. I was dragged along by my very beautiful niece and we were to meet The Sportsperson who would escort us to our 'Very Good Seats' in a 'Very Important Persons enclosure.'

As we walked in, we stood on a side watching what was going on, someone had the audacity to tell us we were a distraction to the players and to please go sit or else stay out of sight! How very rude, don't you think? So we trotted along, but got bored after a while. Like I pointed out to my husband, why on earth did they keep hitting the ball where there were so many fielders, when on the other side there were spaces with no one in sight?

I was told quickly not to make loud and foolish comments like this, the people round about might hear, and imagine the disgrace! So then we occupied ourselves by looking around to see if there were any good looking guys around. We were kept entertained by a group of foreign supporters having a slanging match with the locals. Finally, accidentally, a local chappie threw an empty bottle downstairs and was escorted outside by his collar!

After that it was bo..o..ring. Then at half time, our skipper rejected the light repast offered, and demanded biriyani. We are not foreigners, he said, we want to eat like Sri Lankans (did he mean over eat, stuffed to the gills?) or else, we can't play.

Pandemonium, calls were furiously made (with us shouting rude comments on the side) and the poor, hungry boys were fed! I can't remember the outcome of this match, but we took a long, long time to drive out. To date, I am a Sports Ignoramus!

- Honky Tonk Woman


A closer look at Sri Lanka's craft heritage

Painstaking work to suit the demands of the customers...

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Sri Lanka has a proud heritage of traditional crafts and arts. These products are a result of age-old techniques, indigenous raw materials and tools made of natural material as well.

The origins of the craftsmen in Sri Lanka are closely interwoven with legend and "vishvakarma" is referred to as the divine architect and lord of arts and crafts and also considered to be the mythical ancestor of Kammalars (early master craftsmen).

Studies on early crafts have shown that Kammalars after gradually migrating towards South Indian areas have then traversed to other regions including Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, etc.

It is interesting to note that there exists a distinct similarity in the motifs of handicrafts and decorative arts in the South Asian region.

A description on the country's historical background with regard to arts and crafts says that Sri Lankan history has recorded several incidents of migration and settlements of craftsmen from India.

Historical evidence

The first such incident has been recorded in the Mahabodhi Vansa - a Buddhist chronicle, which records the arrival of the sacred Bo sapling along with Theree Sanghamitta from India during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. According to the chronicle, craftsmen belonging to 21 castes accompanied Theree Sanghamitta on the journey.

These craftsmen are believed to have mingled with the indigenous people in the country, which resulted in the formation of traditional craft guilds.

During the Kandyan period, craftsmen occupied an important position in society and the main families were affluent with considerable wealth in the form of lands received as royal grants.

In order to streamline the administration system, craftsmen during the Kandyan era were organised under the Kottalabadda or the Royal Artifices Department. This department comprised of gold and silversmiths, blacksmiths, painters, wood craftsmen, ivory carvers, etc., working closely with the monarch.

According to Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy, the Hatara Korale Province consisted of seven wood craftsmen, five wood turners, five painters, 17 arrow makers, 14 who executed fine work and ornamenting and inlaying locks, guns, knives, etc. with gold, silver and brass, four gold, silver and copper smiths, one stone worker or mason and 20 blacksmiths who executed regular iron work.

The best of the higher craftsmen including gold and silversmiths, painters and ivory carvers, etc., working for the king formed a close and largely hereditary coorporation of artificers called the Pattal Hathara (for work yards); Abharana Pattalaya (jewellery workshop); Otunu Pattalaya (crown workshop); Sinhasana Pattalaya (throne workshop) and Rankadu Pattalaya (golden sword workshop).

With such a background, the country boasts of a rich and varied heritage of traditional arts and crafts. The products of age-old techniques, tools of natural and indigenous raw materials, Sri Lanka's handicrafts are fashioned in the cottages of craftsmen and women or in rural crafts centres and incorporate a legacy of centuries of inbred skill.

Modern trends

The ancient Indo-Aryan social system of Sri Lanka assigned certain trades and pursuits to specific socio-economic groups or castes; it was within these castes that traditional skills were preserved with a high degree of purity and a distinct ethnic identity. With increasing demand from export markets, Sri Lankan handicrafts have been able to successfully combine certain modern trends which are much sought after.

Sri Lankan handicrafts display an interesting degree of regional specialisation based largely on the availability of the natural raw materials used as well as historical factors such as royal patronage in the past and demand patterns.

With much emphasis now being laid on eco-friendly, hand made items, handicrafts have yet again surfaced in the local market for those eager to go all 'ethnic'- the 'in' thing at present.

Craftsmen however are now faced with the challenge of manufacturing products to suit the local market.

Consultant, Small and Rural Industries Ministry, Sarath Soorasena observed the importance of introducing new design concepts for the upliftment of the local handicrafts sector.

Soorasena explained that handicrafts are currently manufactured to suit the needs of a bygone era, adding that the life cycles of the present designs ended several years ago.

Defining the word "design," Soorasena says it is not decorating a product, but manufacturing a product keeping in mind the whole process in presenting the final product and making sure it fits the present requirements of the customers.

The National Crafts Council (NCC) under the guidance of the Small and Rural Industries Ministry has taken steps to uplift the craft industry and spotlight them in the international arena.

A face-lift

Chairman, NCC, M. G. Dhammasena observed that they are now in the process of uplifting the industry to bring it on par with international levels.

As a starting point, NCC has categorised local crafts into nine categories. Dhammasena noted that earlier local crafts were scattered into 20 odd categories. The nine categories are - earthern ware and pottery, fibre craft and basketry, metal craft forms, crafts associated with performing arts and festivities, jewellery, textile and textile applied crafts, wood craft and lacquered turnery, animal based crafts and miscellaneous crafts.

The NCC while addressing issues related to the development of the industry also looks into matters related to the lives of the craftsmen and women.

According to Dhammasena, the previously prevalent ad hoc method of providing for the industry has been replaced by longer term solutions. "The market is there, we have to manufacture products to fit the needs of the people," he said.


Zahrah: Talking her way to success

Zahrah receiving the trophy after wining the 
All Island Speech Contest Final

By Eswaran Rutnam 

She is young, talented, and ambitious. But you ask her and she says her biggest asset is her "big mouth."

Well it's that big mouth that won 16-year-old Fathima Zahrah Cader the championship at the Colombo Toastmasters All Island Young Speakers Contest for The Lyceum Challenge Trophy 2005.

The Sunday Leader caught up with the champion from St. Bridgets Convent, Colombo while she was relaxing at home with her family.

Remarkable difference

After introducing herself and talking a bit about the shock she got when the announcer at the speech contest said; "and the winner is Fathima Zahrah Cader," the young girl explained that her ambition is to use her prize wining speech skills to make a difference here in Sri Lanka and hopefully someday in the world.

"I want to be in the United Nations and make a change. I want to be heard and I believe I have the mouth to do it," said a confident Zahrah.

The fourth in a family of five girls, Zahrah humbly says that she attributes her success in the speech contest finals to the support of her family, especially her eldest sister, Aaysha Cader.

"Aaysha pushed me from the start and encouraged me all the way," said a happy Zahrah.

She has been involved in speech competitions since she was very young and cultivated it to reach the top and make a mark, something that she is very proud of.

Zahrah says most of her life she has been in the shadow of Aaysha, who topped in almost everything she did.

"At least now people will know me as Zahrah Cader and not Aasyha's sister. Although I must say I adore Aaysha, who is now studying medicine in Bangladesh," says the girl who people see as a carbon copy of the elder sister.

Zahrah, like her elder sister, cares for others and wants to help the needy in any possible way.

She was part of the organising committee of a youth tsunami walk two weeks ago and her affection towards her family and friends became clear when she got a call during our discussion that her little sister had won an event at the school sports meet.

She clapped her hands in joy and celebrated the achievement with her mother before returning to our conversation.

Generosity

Zahrah received Rs. 100,000 for winning the speech contest final and donated most of it for tsunami relief while she also ensured she got gifts for her parents and sisters.

Zahrah, who says she has absolutely no regrets in her life so far, wants to be a psychologist someday while she has also set her sights in doing a little bit of broadcasting.

Her motto in life is; Whatever happens, it happens for the best!

So watchout Sri Lanka, you are bound to hear more from Fathima Zahrah Cader in the near future.



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